This year’s Latinx Heritage Month (LHM) celebration highlights El Poder de la Comunidad, or "the power of community" — a timely theme in the midst of political, racial, economic and health turmoil. To kick off the celebration on Sept. 18, three days after the official beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Mi Gente partnered with DukeCreate to host a virtual art class with keynote speaker and Duke alumna Dr. Lauren Czaplicki.
DukeCreate provided free art materials in the Bryan Center for the first 30 Durham-based students that registered, which included two canvases, watercolors, oil pastels and a paintbrush.
The event focused on wellness and the contributions of Latinx Artists. With Latinx music playing in the background, participants were able to create art that reflected their identity and celebrated the Latinx community. Some participants painted the mountainous landscapes of their Latinx country, while others painted indigenous women to pay homage to the native roots of the Latinx community and still others painted inspirational quotes against backgrounds of the colors of their Latinx flag.
“We were trying to raise more awareness about wellness in the Latinx community,” said Mi Gente Cultural Chair Emily Falcon. “I feel like painting and art in general is a way that people like to express themselves and release stress.”
Kyra Varley, a member of the cultural committee of Mi Gente, was a major contributor in organizing the event.
“In today's crazy and unprecedented world, I thought students would really enjoy unplugging for a bit and just letting their mind wander,” Varley said. “I hoped a painting event would provide a much-needed respite from the fast-paced critical thinking we do all day. Art and having outlets to express yourself is also an integral part of the Latinx culture.”
Not only did the event incorporate more visibility for Latinx Duke students and their wellbeing, but it also provided an opportunity to learn about Latinx artists. Mi Gente’s cultural committee created a slideshow that highlighted Latinx artists, which provided inspiration for students who did not know what to create. Some of the artists included Nani Chacon, Roberto Matta, Juan Sanchez, Wilfredo Lam and Guillermo Kuitca.
“The artist that I was most excited to put on there was Reyna Noriega, she is Afro-Latina, she is just amazing... She does a lot of the work about women, all of her art is based on her representation of BIPOC women specifically,” said Falcon. “I really enjoyed having her on the powerpoint because I feel like she is not very well known.”
Along with the one hour art session, the event hosted keynote speaker Lauren Czaplicki, Ph.D., an environmental engineer, teacher, artist, science communicator and entrepreneur. She discussed her love for nature and watercolors, as well as the obstacles in her field as a Latinx scientist.
“I really love my life and it was only possible once I fully showed up for myself, honored the intersectionality of my experience, rather than seeing it as a thing that held me back, that I had to navigate around,” said Dr. Czaplicki at the event.
Dr.Czaplicki discussed the role that self-awareness has on accepting the intersectionality of the Latinx community. She demonstrated that there is power in loving every part of your identity.
“The message that she was trying to get across was that being a minority in a field that is dominated by white men is difficult, especially when there aren't many other minorities who identify with your community,” said Falcon. “So it's kind of important for you to be there for yourself and know your own worth.”
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Dr. Czaplicki showed the link between her experience with science and the art she creates by presenting some of her own creative work. One of the art pieces she showed was inspired by a finite element analysis.
“The place the eye goes is to the intersection,” said Dr.Czaplicki. “Once I realized that, I was like — the same is true in science, I was able to pioneer new frontiers because I created something that wasn't there before, I worked at the intersection of biotech engineering, mycology and analytical chemistry.”
Much like the intersection between science and art, Dr.Czaplicki highlighted that the intersectionality of her own identity is crucial to her narrative. To spotlight the intersectional experience of Latinx Duke students and to close LHM, Mi Gente is curating a virtual art gallery.
“We are launching a virtual gallery at the end of LHM to highlight people's art and what it means for them to be Latinx or part of multiple identities,” said Falcon.
The virtual gallery will highlight the different parts of the Latinx identity, in addition to celebrating the circles of people, places, communities, and voices that embellish intersectionality.
“I was inspired by several Latinx art collections including ones in the MoMA and the Smithsonian that so beautifully captured the vibrant nature of Latinx communities through work by Latinx artists,” said Varley. “I wanted to create a virtual gallery of my own portraying the experiences of Latinx students at Duke.”
The virtual gallery, titled “My Circles,” will launch mid-October and is accepting all kinds of creative expression such as pieces of poetry, paintings, photography, short stories, and sculptures.